UW System Moving Forward as Wisconsin Recovers from Pandemic

Photo of Tommy G. ThompsonInterim UW System President Tommy Thompson spoke about exciting initiatives designed to make the University even more vital as Wisconsin recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.

It won’t be cheap. Thompson said he has submitted a very aggressive budget request for the next two years. He said he’s “done apologizing” for the money the System needs to continue to excel and grow. After all, the UW is a pipeline for Wisconsin businesses, with 19 percent of its graduates remaining in the state for five years. The University is an “economic engine” with a $24 billion annual impact in the state. Now, he said, the UW could do much more, for both the students and the communities in which they study.

Thompson wants to expand the Wisconsin Idea so people in communities across the state will think of the University as a problem solver. Some of the initiatives in his budget request include: allowing some low-income students to attend the UW tuition-free; graduating more teachers to address the current shortage in our state; offering a stipend and other incentives to students to choose teaching as a career; expanding online education at all levels; expanding freshwater research; and supporting agriculture in the state so that it can grow and be profitable. He has also proposed turning one of the state’s prisons into a school under the UW System where offenders can continue their education, earn a degree and get a job when they are released. He believes this will reduce recidivism, benefit the affected individuals and families, and boost the state economy.

Thompson said the UW System’s “problem solver” role also applies to the state’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Face masks are mandated on all campuses. While he admits the University got off to a somewhat rocky start when students returned to campus last fall, he now believes its testing program is second to none. He said its positivity rate for COVID-19 testing was less than two percent by the end of the year, while that of the state in general was closer to 25 percent. The UW System negotiated to receive 220,000 rapid COVID-19 tests a few months ago and just got 150,000 more. Nursing, pharmacy and other healthcare students are giving COVID vaccines, and if they put in 16 hours they receive a $500 rebate on their tuition. The tests and vaccines are not only for people on campus but also for community members.

After his pre-recorded presentation, Thompson joined Rotarians for a live (and lively) Question & Answer session via Zoom.

Our thanks to UW Interim President Tommy Thompson for his presentation this week and to Andrea Kaminski for preparing this review article.  We also thank WisEye for co-streaming our guest speaker’s presentation.  If you missed our meeting this week, you can watch it here:  https://youtu.be/HOLTmwx8pM4.

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